Thursday, March 16, 2017

Italy March 2017

A busy weekend of five games including Serie A clashes between Juventus and Milan plus the Genoa derby.

10th March 2017  Juventus 2 AC Milan 1  Serie A  40,573 (c. 2,500 away)

As I stayed near Porta Susa in Turin one option to get to the Juventus stadium is to take the 72 bus and this what I did.
Within 30 minutes or so you arrive at what used to be the fairly unloved Stadio delle Alpi.

For your correspondent it was a revisit but the transformation remains inspiring.
The memories of the events in the old, inappropriate, structure are still there not least that perfectly weighted pass from Maradona to set Claudio Caniggia free for the Argentina winning goal against Brazil in Italia ‘90.

But now in 2017 an evening at the superb new stadium is an event, a production. highlighting the presentation of the Juve ‘brand’.
Music, a light show and the club song all feature in the build up.
It portrays a club at the top of its game well above the rest of the Italian teams and confident in its place among the European elite.

That was the preamble, the reality nearly turned out less certain as AC, especially in the second half, threatened to spoil the party.

Juve had led when Medhi Benatia was adjudged to be onside when scoring from close in.
Milan complained at the lack of a flag and they definitely had more grief to come.

As the first period drew to a close it seemed that the home side would go in ahead but with a few minutes remaining ex-Everton wide man Deulofeu broke down the left and set up Carlos Bacca for a low finish past Buffon.
That was against the run of play but after the break AC held their own and looked destined for a point.

Although prolific striker Gonzalo Higuain often produced shots on goal he was always thwarted by young goalie (and presumably eventual successor to Buffon) Donnarumma.

Eventually the officials indicated four added minutes at the end of the match and the time ran down past that point.
Though the dismissal of Jose Sosa for two yellows would have increased that extra period.

Thus Juve were allowed a corner and from the resulting cross captain De Sciglio was signalled to have handled.
It looked harsh as he had his arm down by his side and certainly not in an ‘unnatural’ position.

When the protests had died down the impressive Paulo Dybala decisively struck home the penalty.

The sports paper La Gazzetta were still debating the controversies some days later.

But ultimately it meant Juve had the three points and the Scudetto, as well as a strong run in the Champions League, was again within their grasp.

Back near Porta Susa I nursed some vino rosso while watching the highlights on TV.

11th March  Carrarese 6 Racing Roma 0  Lega Pro   820

And so to Tuscany and the city of Carrara, famous for its marble and for being the birthplace of Giorgio Chinaglia, Cristiano Zanetti and the aforementioned Gianluigi Buffon.
Back in the day the locals tended to favour the Ghibellines over the Guelphs.

On this sunny afternoon at the Stadio dei Marmi they would give good support to their local team as they easily overcame a poor, likely to be relegated, Racing team.

Three goals in each half with two each for Miracoli and Floriano gave the home side a facile victory against a very porous defence.
I admired the mountain backdrop while watching the goals go in.

Then it was a brisk walk back to Carrara Avenza station and a connection to Massa for the fast train back to Genoa.
In Italy there is always some doubt about making train connections but on this trip they all worked fine.

11th March  Genoa 0 Sampdoria 1  Serie A  31,190 (c. 12,000 away)

Once in Genoa Brignole I joined the Sampdoria throng making their way to the Luigi Ferraris, alongside the river.
The stadium remains one of the most atmospheric in Italy with its four steep sides (although the corners pieces could do with removing) and passionate fans positioned at either end.

At least in this country you can see a derby with large numbers of away fans.
And it certainly produces a memorable atmosphere.

We had intense noise, choreo, fireworks and plenty of flares.
Much as ever was at stake and as is often the case that has an affect on the quality of the on-pitch entertainment.
Not many passes arrived at their intended destination.

It took a mistake by Ntcham, with twenty minutes remaining, to give Colombian striker Luis Muriel the chance to drive home the winner and spark tremendous celebrations amongst his squad and fans.

It was a harsh lesson for the French midfielder who otherwise had been part of a solid effort by the underdogs.
Genoa had a few opportunities themselves but each time Samp. goalie Viviano remained in control.

Towards the end in a hectic finale the home side became desperate but couldn’t carve out the necessary chance and if anything Sampdoria might have added another through the talented Czech sub. Patrik Schick.
He looks a player to follow for the future as might Uruguayan Lucas Torreira.

It was not the first such derby to be remembered for the atmosphere, and for a single error that decided the outcome.
Those in blue, this time, could revel in the local bragging rights.

12th March  Chievo Verona 4 Empoli 0  Serie A  9,000 (c. 120 away)

In contrast seeing Chievo play in Verona the following day was much more low key though the passing was thankfully back to normal.
Particularly for the home side.

Empoli clearly have problems scoring goals, having managed just 15 in the league this season.
Perhaps having the ageing Maccarone up front doesn’t help.
He certainly looked past his sell-by date and his substitution in the second half hardly came as a surprise.
Not that his replacement, Mame Thiam, did much better.

One player that did look a prospect was Empoli’s defensive midfielder Assane Diousse.

The Flying Donkeys got the job done with two goals in each half beginning with a nice volley from striker Inglese.
Sergio Pellissier diverted in a Birsa effort before the break for number two.
Birsa himself added the third and another Slovenian, Botjan Cesar applied the coupe de grace in the closing minutes.

Just about all Empoli had to show was a DiMarco shot that struck the post.

It had been a comfortable victory for Chievo on a sunny afternoon.

12th March  Forli 1 Lumezzane 3  Lega Pro  c. 700

Afterwards a short stroll to the station for the train to Bologna then on to Forli, in Romagna.

Again the logistics worked fine as I arrived about an hour prior to the 8.30pm kick-off and in good time to drop my bag off at the hotel and go on to the Stadio Tullo Morgagni.
Which features that unusual velodrome banking at either end, an open stand for the ultras, and a raised main stand.
Like many in Italy you would not build it like that now.

Both these sides needed the points but it was the visitors who prevailed going 2-0 up after 41 minutes with both coming from forward Bacio Terracino.
Although the home side managed a reply just before the break, a header from a corner, they came up against a solid defence and a competent goalie.

In the end Lumezzane were able to net a third after sub. Marra forced home from close range at the second attempt.

By then it had become distinctly chilly and I was glad to warm up back at the hotel

The next day I was on the train back to Milan and on to Linate (with an ‘American’ style cappuccino from Arnold Coffee) for the BA flight back to London.

It had been fairly hectic, without any hot meals (apart from a hot dog in the Genoa stadium), but featuring some memorable football experiences.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Ireland March 2017

A game in Buncrana and a game in Portadown.

Lights out.

3rd March 2017  Derry City 1 Limerick 1   c. 1800  League of Ireland

Derry began their spell over the border in Buncrana with just 25 minutes of action before this game was abandoned.
It was a shame because what we did see was some vibrant attacking before the lights went out.

Large numbers made the short journey into Donegal despite the very inclement weather.
The persistent rain didn’t seem to affect the pitch though with limited available cover it did make for uncomfortable viewing for many.

Derry started brightly but then conceded a breakaway goal as a defensive error allowed Dean Clarke to shoot past the home goalie.
But within ten or so they had levelled as striker Ronan Curtis drove in a headed pass from close range.

Then the floodlights failed and we were just left with mobile phones to light up the ground.

Derry are expected to play all their games here while the Brandywell is being redeveloped, hopefully the experiences will turn out better than this night.
And for the intrepid band of LImerick fans it means another very long journey from the far south.

For me it was just a short walk to my pleasant hotel and I enjoyed a pint while watching the finish of Shamrock Rovers v Bohs.

Spot welded.

4th March  Annagh Utd 1 H & W Welders 2  NI Championship   c. 60

Your correspondent eventually made it to Portadown for this second level encounter.
That was after various bus journey’s via Derry and Belfast followed by a train from Gt.Victoria Street.
Fortunately Annagh have an artificial pitch so there was no danger of a postponement.
We even had some moments when the sun came out.

The match was decided by a late own goal put in by a home defender from a right wing cross.
It was an unfortunate finish but marginally the correct result.

The Welders had edged the first half and gone ahead when the (very) experienced Davy Rainey converted a penalty.

Annagh got level soon after the interval but as It got chillier, and when we were expecting the points to be shared, that o.g. happened.

We walked to Portadown station and got the train back to Belfast where I opted for a Balti.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Italy February 2017

An afternoon flight, late because of storm Doris, to Rome then train to my B & B near Termini.
Followed by metro and tram.

23rd February 2017  Roma 0 Villarreal 1  Europa League  19,495 (c. 100 away)

The Rome Olympic Stadium is as ever, iconic even though the outcome of this tie, with Roma 4-0 up from the first leg, was never in doubt.
Despite that decent numbers turned out in the Curva Sud.
They, like many, had to witness a fairly inept first half from the home side.

Then Roma gifted Villarreal an early goal but that was it for the visitors despite quite a few efforts on goal.
Most of the time they were thwarted by Brazilian goalie Alisson.

He was replacing Szczesny and Roma also did without Dzeko and Salah but did include the ageless Totti up front.
The famous no.10 was never likely to run the channels but he can still deliver a telling pass.

Roma stepped it up after the break and Perotti, particularly, produced some testers.

One negative, apart from the home defeat, was a red card for full back Rudiger who received a second yellow for a push to the face of a Villarreal defender.
Otherwise it was job done for the Giallorossi.

I returned via the tram (comfortable enough) and metro.
Some Valpolicella, plus nuts and crisps - a version of the Mediterranean diet, to complete the evening in the Eternal City.

24th February  Benevento 3 Bari 4  Serie B  11,498 (c. 500 away)

I took an early train to Benevento in Campania ,east of Napoli which features a very impressive Trajan Arch.
Also impressive is the rise of the local football team, now aiming for Serie A.

But on this showery evening they had a setback, ultimately being outscored by Bari

Not only did we get a pulsating first half but also some fine choreo, from both sets of fans.
Bari brought a large group of supporters and they played their part.

And the home Curva Sud, as forecast in the local paper, produced a fine display.

Straight from the start Bari pushed forward but their initial wave of attacks were repulsed and   
the home side went in front when full back Lopez headed in at the far post.
Within a minute Bari had levelled when the excellent Galano shot in from close range.

Bari then extended their lead, first from a low cross then from a penalty conceded by Chibsah.
However Benevento got it back to 2-3 after Cisse headed in a right wing cross.
The second ended with plenty of abuse for the officials (missing offsides, fouls and awarding the pen.)
After the interval we couldn’t get another half like before but Benevento immediately equalised after a fine move down the right and a near post conversion by striker Ceravolo.

But ultimately it was Bari who would have the last word when Galano controlled a cross and shot pat Cragno to make it 3-4.

The last twenty minutes saw the away side consolidate and waste time (particularly their goalie)
Although the excellent Falco threatened via a free kick and a shot against bar, it was not to be for Benevento.

I walked back to my B & B near the Arch having witnessed an excellent evenings’ entertainment.

25th February  Avellino 3 Vicenza 1  Serie B  2,956 (c. 20 away)

Thinking of travelling between Benevento and Avellino by public transport ?
Well there are not too many options with limited buses and just a few trains a day.
It seems not many people make the trip - just one other on the early train and only myself for the late afternoon return ride.

I guess Avellino has limited outstanding features though there is a chemical plant on the road into the town.
Arriving early I whiled away the time drinking coffee and eventually finding some wi-fi.

After that a walk to the stadium as the rain started to fall.

As in Benevento this was another two tier mostly open ground.
Like many in Serie B it has seen better days but the character remains.

Fortunately the pitch was artificial as in other circumstances the game would have been postponed because of the persistent torrential rain.
As the match wore on there was more and more surface water to splash through.

It was the home side that eventually adapted and their determination got them the points.
They scored two first half goals from Angelo D’Angelo and added another, helped by a Vicenza error, soon after the break.

The visitors managed one strike from Nicolo Bellomo mid way through the second period.
And though they applied some late pressure Avellino held on for the win.
The result left Vicenza in continued danger of relegation.

I splashed through the car park and took a taxi back to the station for the (replacement) bus
service to Benevento.
Back at the B & B the hair dryer came in handy to help dry out my clothes.

I finished the evening watching some of the Juve game while quaffing some vino rosso.

26th February  Lupa Roma 3 Lucchese 1  Lega Pro  c.150 (c.30 away)

The day dawned drier as I took the early train back to the capital.

As before I stayed near to Termini and thence to the metro to Ponte Mammolo.
Where you can get a fairly frequent bus to Tivoli.

On the bus you might need to avoid those begging before you arrive about 50 minutes later.

Then its a forty minute walk to the ground, on the edge of town past an old archway.
I had to forgo the villas and old temples but had a very pleasant afternoon strolling through some of the Campagna countryside on the way to the Olindo Galli.

Which comprises a single stand plus some semi-temporary seats for the away fans (who brought some impressively large flags)

The game featured French striker Mohamed Fofana who was involved in most of the significant action.
Firstly he was brought down by a Lucchese defender when put through on goal.
That meant the visitors ended up playing most of the game with ten men.

Though nothing came of the resulting free kick Fofana would get the chance to convert two penalties (both coolly done - looking at the goalie) and they added a third at the end through sub. Iaderesta.

It had started very promisingly for Lucchese after the tall Fanucchi headed in a cross on 4 minutes but after that red card the match went away from them.

So three points for Lupa in their battle against relegation.

Going back the bus was packed due to various activities in the centre of town (carnival-related I think)
Meanwhile in Roma your correspondent settled down in a hectic central restaurant with some escalope while forcing down some more vino.

The following day I spent a little while admiring the ancient forums (yes - they had forums in those days too) and the coliseum (where gladiators v lions was the big match) before getting my flight back to Gatwick.